The Ballieu/Napthine government's Rowville Rail Study ignored the elephant in the room

The Ballieu government when it assumed office in 2010, came to power promising to study various metropolitan rail extensions around Melbourne: Rowville, Doncaster, Avalon airport and Tullamarine airport. In the middle of 2012 public submissions were called for by the study team comprising SKM, Hassell, Mott MacDonald and Phoenix Facilitation and just last week, the final report was released by the government. You can see all the documents released here on the Rowville Rail Study website.

To summarise

The findings of the report, it has been recommended and found:

  • a rail line down the North & Wellington road median is viable with a few caveats, namely relating to rail capacity further up the line and the project being dependent on the Melbourne Metro tunnel project and Dandenong corridor expansion.
  • by 2046, 68,000 people will use the line on 4 stations (Monash University, Mulgrave, Waverley Park and Rowville), 16,000 of which will use the service in the morning peak (7-9am). However the study teams report states that a further patronage study should be conducted when/if the project proceeds as per page 4 Executive Summary.
  • the overwhelming majority of community sentiment wants a one-seat direct train journey to the CBD, refer to: Table 8, Page 34 Final stage 1 report.
  • the line would run at a peak frequency of 6 trains an hour in a shuttle or full Dandenong corridor expansion scenario and limited to 3 trains an hour without the Dandenong corridor expansion scenario - refer: Table 7, Page 35 Final stage 1 report.
  • the line east of Huntingdale, as a best case, would be a mix of tunnel, open cutting and elevated structures, refer to: Figure 17, Page 40 Final stage 1 report.
  • station platforms would be able to take 9-car trains that are mooted as part of the Dandenong corridor expansion.
  • and perhaps most importantly: "Although this first stage of the study is focused on a rail link specifically between Huntingdale and Rowville along the Wellington Road corridor, previous studies and the many comments we have received from the community and stakeholders over recent months have raised other ideas and possibilities, which we summarise diagrammatically in Figure 14.

The final paragraph, to my mind, is the most important point: this study was done purely in isolation for a very specific corridor with vague representation of how this can fit amongst a metropolitan-wide strategy for improved public transport (this is not the study team's fault: rather the state government's). By focusing just on the needs of commuters who work in the CBD or people travelling to Monash, the study has shot itself in the foot by dooming it to the "too hard basket" (as I argued in my Rowville Rail Study submission).

Providing increased rail access to suburban areas which have a lack of them is, absolutely, an admirable goal: one I support. But I do not support entrenching the notion that train lines are arterial routes just for people who work in the CBD - despite the well documented benefits for Monash University - this is precisely what a branch line of the Dandenong corridor will do.

The elephant in the room

The elephant in the room is actually referred to in the graphic above - that involved re-opening parts of the old outer circle rail line corridor from Alamein crossing the Gardiner's Creek Valley, Monash Freeway, Glen Waverley line at East Malvern station and then sending the line in a tunnel under Chadstone - the suburb - with a station at the shopping centre itself and then continuing on to Oakleigh and Huntingdale.

The overarching caveat the Rowville Rail study has thrown up is that the line is dependent on the Dandenong corridor expansion + Metro Tunnel.

Although I will continue to argue for a regime change in the way we plan, build and operate our new rail corridors in the future (refer to the proposal section in my Rowville Rail Study submission) when it comes to new rail lines in Melbourne, if the government of the day is adamant that we must continue to use the rail technology that is deployed across Melbourne now - they must consider dropping the one-seat journey notion to the city for Rowville and widen the scope of the now needed (as the study team suggest) 2nd study into this area.

Despite the study team fulfilling its brief - which was narrow in its terms - we need to widen the scope for the 2nd study by looking directly at an Oakleigh-Chadstone-East Malvern-Alamein link. Creating the Rowville line as an extension of the Alamein line has a milder dependency on Dandenong corridor expansion (there will still be a requirement for more services on the Dandenong corridor to take the transfers from the Huntingdale-Rowville section, but there won't be a direct need for the Dandenong corridor to be expanded to take the extra 6 trains an hour from Rowville as well): it could be done earlier and benefit a much larger section of our community.

Re-opening (parts of) the outer circle line

As a first stage: Rowville-Huntingdale-Oakleigh-Chadston-East Malvern-Alamein-Ashburton could be built as one project. With a 4th platform to the south side of Camberwell the Rowville line can start operating as a Rowville-Camberwell line on 10 minute off-peak and 6-7 minute peak frequencies with 6-car train configurations.

Instantly, Wellington Road corridor residents, students and employees obtain rail access with the option to change trains for citybound (or vice versa) services at Huntingdale, Oakleigh, East Malvern or Camberwell.

Notionally auto traffic around Chadstone would reduce given that it is only a one train change (at Camberwell, East Malvern, Oakleigh or Huntingdale) from suburbs like Berwick, Cranbourne, Mount Waverley, Mitcham, Croydon, Ferntree Gully, Richmond or Hawthorn and with the opening of the Melbourne Metro tunnel, it would only be a one-train change (at Oakleigh) for people living in Footscray, Sunshine or Sunbury - this has the potential to add passengers to multiple rail lines outside of peaks and on weekends when many people visit Chadstone: the state government would be squeezing more revenue out of existing lines to help pay for any debt / interest it accrued to build the Alamein-Rowville line.

There's an opportunity to reduce the cost of constructing the four new Wellington Road stations and the extra platforms at interchange stations as the Burnley-Camberwell-Alamein corridor would continue to operate standard 6-car train configurations, not 9, as mooted with Dandenong corridor expansion.

There's also an opportunity to further reduce the delivery costs of one new station - by endeavouring to initiate a PPP with Gandel Group/CFS Retail Trust (owners of Chadstone SC) through highlighting the direct and valuable benefit of increased centre patronage by way of a rail link.

In a second stage: Laying a 4th track from Burnley to Camberwell (much of the groundwork was done when this section was originally triplicated) and a reconfiguration of the Richmond - Flinders Street section for the Burnley group lines would allow the Rowville line to run through to the terminus at Flinders Street, therefore becoming a truly multi-functional mass transit line. It would become the stopping-all-stations link between Richmond and Camberwell (with all Belgrave and Lilydale trains only stopping at Glenferrie). The missing link between Alamein, East Malvern, Chadstone and Oakleigh would provide a cross-town, non-road path to connect activity centres such as the educational and employment hub at Swinburne University, the services and retail sector-focused Camberwell & Chadstone SC, services and retail sector-focused Oakleigh, educational, R&D and employment hub at and surrounding Monash University, the high-tech Mulgrave industrial area and of course the predominantly residential areas in Waverley Park and Rowville.

In studying this kind of link, the impact on the Monash FWY, Warrigal Road and Dandenong Road in and outside of peaks should be measured. Swinburne University - another large patronage generator - would move from a two train change (at Phase 1 completion) to a one-train change for people who live in the greater South East quadrant of the metro area.

The LGAs of Boroondara, Stonnington, Glen Eira, Monash and Knox City will have a greater opportunity to focus increased residential and commercial densities in the immediate areas surrounding all existing and new rail stations, with the likely outcome being evenly distributed population growth over a wider area of the metropolitan Melbourne area.

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